Shooting themselves in the foot
JAMES Stephen claims that the policy of trying to control TB in cattle is not working, yet last month on BBC Somerset, James Small, a local farmer and the Somerset chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) claimed that "they had it under control in cattle".
One of them is wrong. The recent statistics show a month-on-month decrease in new herd breakdowns since additional cattle-based control measures were introduced following an edict from the EU. It is futile to compare the results from 1986 to 2010 when considering the present day, except perhaps to say that back in 1986 the disease was less of a problem because stringent cattle based measures had seen a reduction from 60 per cent of cattle herds affected in the 1960s down to less than 1per cent by 1986 solely from cattle-based measures.
Unfortunately pressure from farming unions saw a relaxation of cattle testing which allowed the disease to spread again and it has continued to do so.
The 1992 badger legislation actually fell mid-way between the only two full national badger population surveys in 1986 and 1997. In that 11-year period the badger population in the south west of England increased by 27 per cent.
To claim an increase since 1992 is speculation as no further comparable surveys have been undertaken. Badger populations typically fluctuate both seasonally and over longer periods based on the food available within the badger territories and other environmental factors, particularly dry weather. Classical research has shown repeatedly that populations rise and fall but will not exceed the maximum governed by food availability.
Badgers have always existed in urban areas (these areas were fields and woodland once) and Wells is no exception. There are many setts within the city limits, but development or interference often displaces badgers and setts are lost, forcing the badgers into new or alternative areas. Badgers killed on our roads are the highest single cause of mortality with an estimate of 1,000 per week nationally. This alone has a significant negative effect on populations.
The increased bio-security referred to is still totally inadequate and working farmers generally cannot afford more. Without support this is a "catch 22" situation that you would think the farming unions and Government would want to help. The regular programme of cattle testing is equally inefficient in eliminating TB, significantly because the application of test is contrary to its original purpose and design as a "herd indicator" test. The claims of reduction in TB from other countries, which cite benefit from removing wildlife, ignore deliberately to inform that whole cattle herds are often depopulated. I have yet to see any such report from Government, farming union or agriculture correspondent that admits this happens.
Much is claimed about the Republic of Ireland where many thousands of snares are set to allow badgers to be killed. The claims tell you that improved bio-security, total annual cattle testing and badger removal resulted in the decline in TB. But there two important things they don't tell you. Firstly they have no idea want contribution killing badgers makes and secondly Northern Ireland has a similar trend in reducing TB from improved bio-security and total annual cattle testing but without killing badgers.
In other parts of the world cattle are vaccinated effectively and the DIVA test which allows identification of vaccinated as opposed to infected cattle applied. If it was not for intransigence on the part of Government and the farming unions our farmers would have the cattle vaccine and be relieved from the nightmare of TB testing and cattle slaughter.
Vaccination of badgers was trialled for ten years on captive and wild badgers to prove 74 per cent effectiveness before becoming freely available for field use. There are many areas in this country where vaccination is ongoing, in a Government trial, by commercial companies and by volunteer groups. Indeed the Somerset Badger Group has been vaccinating badgers on farms in the west Somerset badger cull area since last year.
They charge £25 (subsidised by volunteer labour and charity funding) for each badger caught and vaccinated, and will be pleased to extend this to other prudent farmers and landowners who see the business sense of this truly sustainable approach. There are also Government funds available for 50 per cent grants towards vaccination on farms under annual testing and where two or more contiguous farms apply.
Badgers do not need to be vaccinated more than once. The four-year programme ensures that animals missed in previous years are caught and new cubs included. Over the four-year period group immunity is achieved and whatever level of potential re-infection to cattle anyone cares to claim is eliminated. An oral vaccine for badgers has been developed and is currently being field trialled.
Professor John Bourne is often quoted when people refer to the results of the previous badger culling trial (the RBCT). That experiment trapped and killed 11,000 badgers, with one in seven found at post mortem to have been in contact with TB. This means the vast majority of badgers being shot in west Somerset will be healthy; no wonder Government and the farming unions don't want them tested for TB.
The most frequent comment from John Bourne quoted is "that killing badgers will not make any meaningful contribution to controlling TB in cattle", but a further very significant finding was "that cattle-based measures alone would control TB in cattle". It also evident from other research that as TB reduces in cattle there is a corresponding reduction of TB in badgers.
The proposed widespread badger culling that James Stephen supports will, at the best Government estimate, see a reduction in the rate of increase of TB in cattle by 16 per cent over nine years. It is truly unfortunate that culling of badgers to the point of local extinction (Government figures for the badger population are "guesstimates") and leave the significant 84 per cent of the problem in cattle because of political expediency from election promises, mis-application of the cattle test, intransigence in Government and farming unions, and the proliferation of mis-information in the media by writers and broadcasters who should take the trouble to check out the whole sad story before broadcasting.
It is not just the badgers which will die, but the cattle and working farmers who will continue to suffer that concerns me. If Government and the farming unions really are sincere about wanting healthy cattle and healthy badgers, then indiscriminate shooting of badgers at night will not achieve this and can only have one outcome "shooting themselves in the foot".